Steel plates, Finnish cuisine, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam talk about the different assessment types and how Insights can help teachers. What is Insights? What famous TIMSS question throws kids off? Plus, Andy and Adam break down the depths Insights goes into to help diagnose an individual child’s gaps and misunderstandings.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School podcast.
Welcome to the School of School podcast.
Are you a maths teacher looking for CPD to strengthen your skills? Maths — No Problem! has a variety of courses to suit your needs. From textbook implementation to the essentials of teaching maths mastery. Visit mathsnoproblem.com today to learn more.
So welcome back to another episode of the School of School podcast. I am here with Adam. Hello, Adam.
And Andy. Hi, Andy.
Hello. Hello, Robin. Hello, Adam.
How you doing, Andy?
I'm doing well. My broken leg is mending, finally. I'm walking around, no crutches, feeling like I'm superhuman again.
Well, this is good news. I'm happy to hear that. And I wanted though to focus today on, we've had some questions come in that we have been asked to discuss and perhaps answer. And one of them involves assessment with Maths — No Problem! So the question itself is what are the different types of assessments and how Insights can help teachers assess their classroom? So I don't even know if all of our listeners are even aware of what Insights is. Would someone like to explain what Insights is?
Yeah, I'll start. I'm happy to. Yeah, I'll dig in. And Adam, you can add on.
So we're talking about Insights, we're talking about a national problem product, which is a, primary school assessment tool is not the right word. So I think what I would say is think of it as an MRI machine for your student's mathematical understanding or progress.
This is going back to your leg again, isn't it? This is going back to the whole broken leg thing.
No, you know, it's funny.
That's where MRI came up.
No, Robin, I did that on purpose. Right? I did that on purpose, bring up my broken leg. Because what dawned on me when I read this was like, well look, I'm going through physiotherapy right now and I have just recently seen my surgeon about my broken leg healing. And how do they assess that? Right? So how do they assess what the progress is on my leg? So it's an interesting thing. Right? Now, in the old days, when they didn't have x-ray machines and MRI machines and all these fancy tools that physios use and all that kind of stuff, how would they have assessed your leg? Well say, "All right, Andy, well why don't you walk from the front of the class to the back of the class, or front of the exam room to the back of the exam room and I'll see how you're walking. And then maybe I'll see if I can push you over or something. And then we will evaluate from that whether or not your leg is healed." Right?
If you go back long enough, it probably was that, exactly that. Right? And nowadays, it's a lot more sophisticated. We have tools. Right? So look, I had a steel plate and a bunch of screws put in my leg because I broke it. And it's quite traumatic to the system. All your muscles and tendons now have to work on top of this steel plate, and that takes time to heal. And how do you know when it's ready? How do you know when it's good? Well, what if they don't take a x-ray and see what the bone density is and the calcification knows where the break is, they don't really know. Right? So you need tools.
You need tools to do proper assessment. So that in essence is what Insights is. It's a tool. And if I look at the x-ray, I can't tell. You still need an expert, radiologist, surgeon, orthopaedic surgeon, physios, all these people to really be able to use the tools appropriately. But there are tools for professionals. Insights is a tool for teachers and learning professionals to do much more sophisticated assessment than they can do just by doing formative assessment in the classroom or even giving summative assessment papers to the students.
And if I can jump on the back of that. For people that don't know the Insights, or don't know about Insights, the feedback that's given is extraordinary in terms of its sort of diagnostic capabilities. And I think that that's the thing. Is that going back to the analogy of your leg, well it's not an analogy, it's real life for you, but going back to a medical analogy is that if it was a blunt instrument and it was just looking at something and going back in time, then people would have a similar picture. Right? And they'd have to conclude things based on anecdotal evidence or what they think or what they know. And everything's limited about what to do next for you based on kind of, I don't know, a not as well-informed opinion.
However, if using your MRI, the amount of information comes back, each of those practitioners is able to look at that and interpret the information that's poignant to them. And they can each decide, "Right, I'm going to do this for you. I'm going to do something slightly different for you that's going to compliment this first person doing this." The third person interprets the information, that part of the information for them. And this is what Insights give. And I've talked about this to many people before, is that this isn't just the information that you get back from the children. Of course, in the first instance, we want our classroom teachers to have as much information as possible about a child's understanding of mathematics, but it's also using that information for school leaders, governors. And all the information's there so we can ultimately make the best decision to support the child. So it's not just a blunt tool of have they got this right or wrong and then I have to guess as to what's up. The information that comes back is far more sort of, I don't know, it's far more detailed in its nature.
And it's the same reason why with every advance, with what you've just talked about, Andy, means that the chance of you and your leg working as well as pre-accident is going to be greatly improved. The progress that you'll make will be greatly improved based on the information that they have at their fingertips. Right? And of course, that's exactly true for children, and it's true for practitioners, is that we're only as good as the information that we have about our students. An assessment is, well, you can't teach without it. And the better your assessment is, the more options you've got to address that.
No, absolutely. And what can come from that, obviously, I think there's a key thing that you said there is that once you start gathering data and you do responsible things with that data, you can start seeing things that help you improve, that empirical data helps you improve at a multitude of levels. So Insights allows you to help an individual student with their particular needs. So you can identify not only content domains that they may be having difficulty with, but also the cognitive domain levels that they're attaining with the different content domains. When we're talking about cognitive domains, we're talking about mastery here. So mastery is about mastering things. Right?
So there's different levels that lead to mastery. There's knowing something, which is like I know that seven plus five equals 12, that's only a certain depth of knowing. Right? Then there's being able to apply seven plus five to solve a problem, which is application, which is a little bit more challenging. Right? So it's possible that your student is only at the knowing level, but they can't apply it.
So there's a famous question from one of the TIMSS, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, that illustrates this perfectly. So you tell child, you tell them four times five equals 20, a young child. And then you ask them to fill in something plus something plus something plus something equals something, and they can't do it. Now they know four times five equals 20, but they can't apply that to the problem that you've given them. So that's applications. More difficult than just knowing four times five equals 20. It's being able to apply it in a situation. Right? So there's all these different levels of understanding. So Insights tells you not only whether or not they're attaining what you hope they attain, but to what level are they actually matching that. Can they apply that information? Can they use that information to do reason in a completely unfamiliar type situation? Right?
So we test all these things and then we gather all this data. So you'll have this profile of a student like, "Hey, they're really great at geometry, but they really can't do multiplication." So you can't just say your child has attained 57% in mathematics or they got a C, when it is not very intuitive. So where's the problem and what are you going to do about it? Is really what you need to know. So that information is there for the teacher to help that individual pupil.
But also for the school leader might be like, "Hey, you know what? My school really sucks at teaching geometry. Maybe it's time for me to invest in some professional development for my teachers on how to teach geometry." Because that information will be glaring in front of you. Or heaven forbid, Maths — No Problem! saying, "You know the kids are doing the Maths — No Problem! series, they're not doing all that great or not as good as we'd like them to in," whatever, pick topic X or whatever. All that information becomes available. So it allows us to improve our game as well. But you know, you can do this on a country level, you can do it on a district level, you can do whatever you want, and all these answers are there available for you. So different people get different things out of it.
And I'm just going to pick up on that. When I first looked at Insights and I just thought magic, I thought this is what's been missing for me. I'm going to put a school leader hat on. Because the very real consequence of say children getting something wrong. So I'll use multiplication. Like, "Oh, children in our school, terrible at multiplication." But maybe the part of the multiplication that they're not so good at is understanding the concept that allows them to do a reasoning question like a four times five is 20, what's five times five? And being able to use what they know and say, "Oh, OK. It's this, this and this." If I didn't know that, then I'm going to take the school's budget, which is precious and I'm going to go, "Right. Someone help me because these guys are really terrible at multiplication." So someone comes in and goes, "Right, I'll tell you what, I'm going to take your money and I'll tell you the order in which you guys do multiplication. This has been studied. An you do this first, then you do this, then you do this," or whatever else. Right?
And that money, you may as well set fire to it because that's not the problem. The problem isn't the order in which it comes, it's the type of question that's being asked about it. Right? And that's money that I'm never going to get back. That's money that I've effectively taken out of all my children's pockets, and that was kind of my one shot at multiplication. And then we have to wait another year and see. Has that made a difference? Oh, do you know what? It hasn't. So being able to make those decisions and being accurate, it's kind of saying, "Oh, where are we going to put the plate in Andy's leg?" "I don't know, just kind of put it around there-ish. That'll do the trick. He'll be fine."
A couple of zap straps.
And two years down the track, Andy's limping, he's in pain constantly.
Because we've not been sharp enough about where those resources are going to go. And we know in schools there's not an infinite number. We can't go getting it wrong. Not just because we shouldn't get it wrong because the children are too precious, but if we get it wrong, we can't remedy it because we've got to wait for next year's budget.
And that's not good enough.
And how do you know?
And how do you know? How do you know whether the steel plate's going to work or not? Because they put steel plates in before and then they take x-rays and MRIs and all this kind of stuff and they see how it happens and how it heals. There's that constant, so it needs to be part of your culture of your school is to gather empirical data and say over a period of time, it gives you the confidence of this is where we should be investing our time, investing our money, this is what we need to get better at, all those types of things. Right? And unless you're gathering empirical data, unless you're fanatical about gathering empirical data, but useful empirical data, not just meaningless empirical data.
So this is the problem all too often in school is that what ends up happening is that we do these kind of marking and we have all these marking schemes and all, we gather all this data. But what happens to all this? Who can make any sense of all these data points? So it's like technology has evolved to a point now, and this is what what's part of Insights is this whole kind of big data number crunching, no SQL database kind of stuff, that runs things like artificial intelligence and Google and all these. How does Google give you seven million responses to your query in a fraction of the second? There's all this technology out there that allows you to manipulate and handle and process huge amounts of data instantaneously to give you great insights into things. That's the back of Insights. Right? So we've used all this greatest, sort of the best that we know about how to process huge amounts of data because already in Insights we've collected millions and millions of data points.
It's something I really want to jump on the back of that. And the other part that I don't think the listeners will know is the absolute art of writing the right question.
So back to Google, it's kind of like your responses will be as good as what you write in. If I put in what is Finland? And it'll come back a country. Or where is Finland? And it will tell me on a map. If I put in where is the best place to eat in Finland? Where is the best place to eat in the suburb of Finland? Now I'm starting to get the responses that I was actually after in the first instance that I couldn't achieve with the first question. And having been fortunate enough to listen and work with people who write assessment questions for a living, oh my goodness, what a skill. I don't think people really have any idea about just what a skill it is. And fortunately, worked with the best. So I think that that is something that people need to know is that asking the right question is so key to getting the right assessment data back.
Absolutely. And yeah, thank you for pointing that out, Adam, because that is so critical. So you have to collect valid data in order to get really good empirical data from it. So you start with who's the best. Who's the best? Who has studied this and knows this to that level? Start with working with them, formulate the right questions, which is a craft and takes a tremendous amount of time and testing and then feed those into the best technology you possibly can to then crunch the numbers in a way that's only recently been possible to then give what seems like almost a magical answer to any question that you ask it. And that's kind of what we're trying to do with Insights. Right? And it's a tremendous work of technology and of craft and skill and know-how from the world's best in each of those disciplines, putting it together so that we can help people learn better.
Yeah. And I think the other thing, just to jump on, I think initially, Robin, you talked about the types of assessment and I think often the easy answer is right, oh, it's broken into two distinct camps. So summative assessment, the kind of at the end of learning assessment. And then formative assessment, like forming an idea or kind of real time constant feedback from the students and whatnot. But where I think Insights bridges the gap is that say for argument's sake, there's something in given any topic that you can see it's an issue for the children. If you use the Maths — No Problem! series, it will give you the sort of page reference, chapter reference as to where you can see the types of questions and of equal importance, how those ideas are supported. So you can take something that is an effect, that the sort of summative assessment, that the end of learning assessment, look at what those results tell us and see immediately.
So if I ask this type of question after I've helped remediate, then I'll know where they're at. I can have an idea of the types of questions rather than giving the same question over and over again, which can give us a kind of false response because the children are conditioned to that one question. Then we can start to look and say, "All right, well, I can drop this into my classroom practise. This is something that I can do tomorrow to support this child." And I think that that's where, it's another bridge between the two. And so they're not seen as two distinct things. When I first started teaching, it was like summative assessment was the folder on your bookshelf in the classroom. And you handed it into the school leader, and they looked at it and we all hummed and hawed and thought, "Right, 64% operating at an OK level is not great. Should we try for 68?" And with no sophistication. And that was kind of it. And you filled up your ring binder over the years and that was it.
But if someone's ever said to me, "Right. You tell me what are you going to ask the question tomorrow for that percentage of children that have clearly struggling with this idea," it's on me. And again, it's something that I know Andy said on many times, I think we all have, off the podcast, on the podcast, is if it's left to me to try to decide that it's left the chance. I might get it right, I might get it right for that child tomorrow. I might get it right for my class tomorrow. But equally, I might not. Because I don't know. What does that tell me? If I've got this 22% of kids that haven't made the grade or the 26% that haven't made the grade, what do I do?
And that's a really hard question for a classroom teacher because I don't know. If I just told you, "Right. Your child got 74% in the maths test, Robin. Can you help them with the 26% please?" And left you with that, good luck. What a waste of time. Literally, a waste of time trying to find out where you're going to help them. And I think that that's where the immediacy of getting that response back and pointing you to an example to say, "Right, this is what it looks like. This is how you support them," you can do it tomorrow. No, I don't know that there's anything else in terms of that level of summative assessment that can do that.
Yeah, sorry, just to chime in on that. From the parent's perspective, what a great tool Insights is because you have that meeting with the teacher and the teacher's not just saying, well, yeah, little Johnny has...
Sally got a 68. Right?
Yeah. Got 68. They obviously aren't doing well in this. They need to improve infractions. No, they can be so specific. Actually, they're doing well in fractions, but they're struggling with this one concept. Or just being able to give an overall review of their child's learning. It's incredible.
There's something so important at play here. Is that, again, I'm going to use that multiplication example. If I get that wrong and I say to you, "Right, Robin, your child needs help with multiplication," and we leave it at that. Right? Now, every day you are just drilling the times tables just drill, drill, drill, drill, drill. And they already know it. The problem that's going to happen is twofold. Right? They're going to associate maths with something that's dull and boring and doing the same thing over and over again. And the other thing is that as schools, of course, we want to support that, we want to be able to give the opportunity for parents to support their child. Right? And the only way you can support your child as a parent is if they're actually going to engage with it. If you start doing that, I promise you, the next time you go to help your child as a parent, they're just going to be like, "Nah, this sucks. All you do, dad, is you go on about the same stuff over and over. I already know it. For goodness' sake, can you just tell my teacher I already know it?" Because we've missed the part that they actually need help with and the way that it's phrased.
And we're not asking people to become teachers, but this is the reality. We get it wrong at home, we switch it off. Homework is a nightmare, supports a nightmare. And exactly the same in the classroom. We get it wrong there, same thing happens. I associate maths with, oh man, this is, and what it comes back to and this will be the last that I say about it, is I cannot stress the importance, same with Andy's leg, if you don't get the assessment right, if you don't know how to help someone, if you don't know how to support the acquisition of an idea, you're leaving it the chance. And it's as simple as that. And so it's irresponsible not to know. And if there's tools out there to know, use them.
Yeah. And it comes down to very practical decisions for school leaders. Right? So it's like you're absolutely right. It's like, "OK, I've got a budget every year, I need to spend it," schools have to spend money and they have to spend money as wisely as they possibly can. And if you don't know what the problem is, what's the likelihood that you're going to spend it wisely? And it could be something as simple as like, well, look, I've got, I don't know, I mean, I love bashing on interactive whiteboards. So I could buy a bunch of new interactive whiteboards for my school, SMART boards or whatever brand you want. Or I could spend money on professional development, but I don't really know, usually I don't get much out of professional development. OK, I'll just buy the whiteboards. Right? Generally, as a school leader, that's kind of some of the decisions you have to make.
But then if you have information in front of you that says your pupils are well on track, then you can buy those whiteboards with confidence. But if that information tells you that actually when it comes to, I don't know, reasoning and basic arithmetic, your school's really underperforming, then you should know that maybe whiteboards is not your priority right now, and maybe you should be spending your money somewhere else. Maybe buying a scheme, a set of textbooks or maybe professional development for your teachers or whatever. Right? And that's really what it comes down to.
So it's the same thing for, if you got a broken leg and they're not going to, the hospital says, "Hey, we don't really believe in x-rays. I think the surgeon can just guess on his own whether or not you need a steel plate." How well would you feel? Well, you should feel that way for your parents sending your kids to school and the school saying, "We're not going to invest in assessment because my teachers know everything." And that's the reality. That's how I see it anyway. So that's what Insights does. It's an MRI machine or an x-ray, however you want to look at it. It's a satellite navigation system instead of a compass. Right? You decide whether or not you want to invest in it.
Great analogy. All right. Well thanks everyone.
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